Friday, May 28, 2010

Once-Deaf Baby Hears For The First Time

Happy Friday! Here's a feel-good moment to send you off into the holiday weekend. You might want to have a tissue handy.

Alicia Keys Is Pregnant!

Big news from Alicia Keys: she's going to be a mom!

Following much speculation, a rep for the Grammy winner confirms that Keys, 29, and producer beau Swizz Beatz are expecting a baby and are engaged to be married later this year.

A pal tells Us Magazine, "They are very happy." It's the first child for the singer; Beatz, 31, is father to sons Kaseem Jr. and Prince, both from prior relationships.

"[Alicia] is with the man who has inspired so much of her music and her album [The Element of Freedom]," another friend told Us of Beatz back in January.

And Keys' husband-to-be is equally smitten. "What we have is so precious," Beatz gushed to the New York Daily News last year.

Of motherhood, Keys recently admitted, "I absolutely am very interested in starting a family. It is one of the most beautiful experiences to have in this life and I am looking forward to it when it is my time."


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Learning to Taste in the Womb

Tucking into a particularly spicy curry the other night, I started wondering if my fetus was sharing in any of these wonderful taste sensations. Fetal taste buds are said to develop just 13 to 15 weeks into pregnancy, and we're also told that babies can distinguish between different flavors in breast milk. But do flavors also get into the amniotic fluid?

According to Julie Mennella, a taste researcher at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, they can. "If it gets into the blood supply, it will get into the amniotic fluid and the breast milk," she says.

Volatile compounds, such as the sulphurous compounds that give garlic its taste, are able to get into the blood and thence into the amniotic fluid. Each day in the third trimester of pregnancy, fetuses breathe and swallow around a liter of amniotic fluid, which passes over olfactory receptors in the nose and the taste receptors in the mouth.

Several studies have shown that babies whose mothers consumed garlic or anise during pregnancy are drawn towards those smells in the first few days after birth. "If you take amniotic fluid from mothers who have eaten a really garlicy meal, you can smell it," Mennella says, although she adds that no one to her knowledge has investigated whether capsaicin – the compound that puts the kick in chillis – can also get into the amniotic fluid.

The memories of these tastes also seem to persist for some time after birth, and may shape babies' preferences for foods in later life. In 2001, Mennella found that the infants of mothers who drank 300 millilitres of carrot juice four times a week for three weeks during the last trimester of pregnancy, or during the first two months of breastfeeding, showed a greater enjoyment of cereals prepared with carrot juice once they were weaned (Pediatrics, vol 107, p e88).

More recently, Mennella says she has found that infants whose mothers ate a lot of fruit during pregnancy are more accepting of fruit when it is introduced to them during weaning. "The baby is learning what foods mom likes," she says. "I think it's the first way they learn what foods are safe and also what foods are available."

Pregnancy and lactation may therefore be ideal times to set babies a good example by eating a healthy and varied diet, she suggests.

It may also be possible to set a bad example, however, as Paula Abate of the Mercedes and Martín Ferreyra Institute of Medical Investigation in Córdoba, Argentina, and her colleagues recently showed. They found that infants whose mothers consumed at least 22.1 grams of alcohol per week during pregnancy – that's just under 3 units (equivalent to two small glasses of wine) – exhibited more smiling, suckling and licking expressions in response to the smell of alcohol than those whose mothers drank infrequently or abstained during pregnancy (Experimental Biology and Medicine, DOI: 10.3181/0703-mr-69). None of these infants showed signs of fetal alcohol syndrome, however.

All this raises the question of whether preferences learned in utero extend into the teens or adulthood. Could my mother's wine consumption during pregnancy (she admits that she had the odd glass with dinner) explain my penchant for viognier, for example?

Studies in rats suggest it might. In a slightly bizarre experiment, adolescent rats whose mothers had been given alcohol during pregnancy showed a greater interest in intoxicated partners than those whose mothers hadn't consumed alcohol, and also preferred its smell.

Recent evidence has also suggested that the children of alcoholics are more likely to battle with alcohol problems themselves. Becoming accustomed to the taste during late pregnancy might be one mechanism through which this happens, says Abate. "Prenatal alcohol exposure strongly predicts later drinking patterns and alcohol-related drinking problems," she says.


Mothers Share HypnoBirthing Experiences

On a morning last December, Stephanie Benelli was floating on a cloud of strawberry-colored mist. The mist turned orange, then swept over her, bringing her even deeper into a relaxed state.

Was she getting a massage, or perhaps enjoying an aromatherapy session? Far from it.

Benelli was hunched on the floor on all fours, giving birth to her first child. Strangely, she wasn't in any pain. More like discomfort.

“I would not describe childbirth as the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced,” says Benelli, 28, an interior designer from The Bronx.

“It was intense, but manageable with the HypnoBirthing techniques I’d learned.”

HypnoBirthing — a method of relaxation via visualization and deep breathing — is a growing trend among NYC-area moms-to-be who seek alternatives to medicated births. And devotees — like Benelli, now the proud parent of daughter Carolena — say it really works.

“I would give birth again tomorrow!” says Benelli. “I would do it once a year, just for the experience. But then I would have a litter of kids and my husband would kill me.”

The idea behind HypnoBirthing is that childbirth is a natural function and can be accomplished calmly if the mother can relax enough to let her body do its job.

HypnoBirthers believe modern birth — with epidurals, C-sections, Pitocin injections, etc. — build a culture of fear which causes women to release hormones during childbirth that increase pain.

HypnoBirthing founder Marie Mongan, who patented the word and wrote the book “HypnoBirthing, the Mongan Method” in 1992, aims to teach women self-hypnosis. When Mongan founded her technique 20 years ago, the movement was considered New-Agey. Now, as women begin to look more skeptically at hospitals that perform C-sections with assembly-line speed, HypnoBirthing is gaining traction.

When Yael Quittner, a practitioner from Crown Heights, began teaching three years ago, she says there were only five teachers in the NYC area. Now there are 12. The HypnoBirthing Institute in Epsom, NH, is even offering a weekend training session next month in New York City for budding practitioners.

But not everyone is under the HypnoBirthing spell. Dr. Samantha Feder, an OB-GYN with St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital, says she saw one patient enter such a deep trance that she was hardly present during the birth.

“The patient is putting herself into a trancelike state, so she’s not very present in the room physically,” says Feder.

“She achieved her goal of not having any pain medication, but she seemed a little dulled to the experience.”

At another birth, Feder says the technique didn’t work at all. The mother needed immediate medical intervention.

Dr. Randi Hutter Epstein, author of “Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth From the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank,” says that while relaxation techniques during birth are positive for women, the pressure to deliver without drugs is enormous.

“We are so judgmental about the drug versus drug-free childbirth debate. Women who had an epidural or a C-section are made to feel lesser than other women who did not,” says the mother of four.

“It’s not like they’re sitting on the couch watching TV and eating chips or something.”

A HypnoBirthing packet, which includes two CDs, the book and five classes with a practitioner, costs about $375, says Joan Sabba, a practitioner from Brooklyn Heights. Some practitioners just train expectant mothers leading up to birth, while others will be in the delivery room. Prices vary; Sabba charges between $600 and $1,000 to attend the birth.

“There’s no marketing behind us,” says Quittner.

“Everything is word of mouth.” And the word is spreading.

New mom Annalyce Loretto, 26, always assumed she would want a pain-numbing epidural when she gave birth. But when the fashion model got pregnant last year, she had a change of heart.

The HypnoBirthing theory “just made sense to me,” she says. Loretto practiced the visualization techniques, and the birth of her baby Raffaela in February was an incredibly peaceful affair, she says.

“I wasn’t talking or screaming. There was discomfort but not pain. Nothing caused me to scream or clench up.”

The only problem, said husband Stefano Loretto, was that Annalyce was leaning back against him, and her elbows were digging into his thighs the entire time.

“I knew I couldn’t say anything without sounding like a total wuss, but it was actually pretty painful,” he says with a laugh. “I think I was in more pain than my wife was.”

HypnoBirther Cynthia Rodriguez, 30, of Williamsburg, is also a believer. When she gave birth, she imagined she was at a beach, swimming with dolphins.

“I was so relaxed that I wasn’t focusing on the chaos of the delivery room,” says Rodriguez, who had a boy in October. “I just kept thinking about the beach and kept hearing waves splashing and seeing myself swimming . . . And it worked.”


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Mother's Catch-22

When Congress and Bill Clinton decided to end "welfare as we know it," they made a deal with the poor folks who were being cut loose from their AFDC checks. Go out and find a job, they told the mothers with dependent children. Government will help by providing a modest subsidy to pay for child care. As a practical matter, most mothers with small children couldn't go to work without it.

Now that promise is gradually being withdrawn. The federal government still funds the child-care subsidy, but across the country local governments and some states are deciding they can no longer afford to take the federal money. Faced with horrendous budget deficits, cities and counties are cutting back the local matching money required of them.

Child care providers, often former welfare recipients themselves, see their incomes plummet and have to close down. Working women with kids are stranded without good choices. They scramble. Some wind up back on the welfare rolls or getting emergency cash assistance.

Poor mothers who work in low-wage jobs are not exactly a high-profile interest group. Their calamity is just one more dislocation among the many caused by the Great Recession. The New York Times took notice, however. Reporter Peter Goodman told their story with powerful reporting and his comprehensive account led the newspaper's front page.

A 23-year-old mother in Tucson, Arizona, told Goodman: "I'm totally able, physically and intellectually, to continue working. But I can't work without child care, and I can't afford child care without work."

If President Obama were serious about large-scale public job creation to confront unemployment, he might start with this mother's humble dilemma. The realm in which these women scramble and struggle is actually a promising opportunity for economic development—one place where public investment can generate massive job creation. In fact, the broad universe of "care giving" would deliver a bigger payoff in new jobs than federal spending on infrastructure or green energy projects.

Leave aside the harsh inequities of welfare reform. In the post-welfare world, necessity generated a lot of personal enterprise and small-scale ventures—plucky welfare mothers who wound up creating and operating their own neighborhood businesses as care givers. I got a glimpse of this world recently in upstate New York when I met with child-care organizers from the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA). The union of nearly 300,000 workers from state and local governments now has some 22,000 members who work in the child-care sector, sometimes know as "kith and kin care."

Their stories involve "true grit" in the classic American manner. These micro-entrepreneurs cope with all the usual nightmares of owning a small business, getting the accounting right or meeting payrolls and burdensome regulations.

But these care givers also fill an important social role. In neighborhoods often decimated by poverty, they are often the vital connecting threads—the eyes and ears and voice for powerless communities. CSEA recognizes their potential as political voices too. The union is helping the organizers develop the self-confidence to speak up on broader public issues. They know what working folks think—they talk to them everyday.

The Levy Economic Institute of Bard College—an unapologetic voice for liberal economics—published a provocative study called "Why President Obama Should Care about 'Care' ". The study asserts "the government needs to identify useful projects that have the potential for massive public job creation, and to select investments that maximize job creation both immediately and equitably."

The Levy economists conclude that "social sector investment, such as early childhood education and home-based care, generates more than twice the number of jobs as infrastructure spending and almost 1.5 times the number of jobs as investing in green energy. In addition, it is relatively more effective in providing jobs to people with the least education. The social sector is particularly beneficial for women (new jobs are concentrated in teaching, child care and home health care)."

There is the catch. Those groups—women, less educated and lower income workers—are usually first fired, last hired. This recession is a model for that reactionary dictum. "The government has focused on rescuing Wall Street and the banks—the main beneficiaries during times of economic prosperity—rather than low-income householders who continue to lose their homed and their jobs," the authors noted.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Minnesota woman gives birth while driving herself to the hospital

A Minnesota woman gave birth while driving herself to the hospital as her husband steered the car into the parking lot from the passenger side, The Bemidji Pioneer reports.

Amanda McBride, 29, of Bagley, Minn., left work early to head for the hospital when she suspected that she was about to give birth. En route, she picked up her husband, Joseph Phillips, at home.

McBride drove the 2005 red Chevrolet Cobalt because Phillips suffers seizures, the newspaper says.

As they got near the hospital, her water broke.

"She yelled at me to grab the wheel," Phillips tells The Pioneer. "And then, all of a sudden, I heard this little waa-a-a-a (cry)."

Amanda says she had managed to pull down her pants after her water broke, "and then the baby just came right out."

"I was just sitting on the seat and he just slid out," she says. "It really wasn't bad at all."

Amanda held the baby and turned on the car heater while Phillips managed to steer the car into the hospital parking lot, the newspaper reports.

The 8-pound newborn, also named Joseph, is McBride's third son.


Premature birth risk is genetic, researchers suspect

Premature birth risk appears to be genetic, say researchers after finding early births tend to run in families.

Women born prematurely or who have brothers or sisters who were born too early are 50-60% more likely to have a premature baby themselves, they say.

The University of Aberdeen study is based on maternity records of 22,343 Scottish mothers and their daughters.

Obstetrics & Gynecology journal says the work may help others to predict and plan for these high risk births.

Premature birth is a leading cause of death in newborns and can lead to long-term problems such as cerebral palsy.

Attempts to predict and prevent spontaneous preterm births have been compromised by gaps in our understanding of what causes the condition, say the researchers.

Lead author of the study Dr Sohinee Bhattacharya said: "Our research supports a genetic predisposition to preterm birth.

"Further research should focus on the identification of candidate genes for the condition."

All the records related to single births only and did not include twins or other multiple pregnancies.

The researchers found that mothers-to-be who had been born prematurely were, on average, 60% more likely to have a premature baby if it was their first pregnancy.

For any subsequent pregnancies their risk was 50%.

Andy Cole, Chief Executive of Bliss, the special care baby charity, said: "We welcome any research that helps us better understand the causes of preterm birth and identify those at high risk.

"While this study's findings are interesting, further research is still needed in this area.

"The development of a reliable test for premature birth is vital in ensuring our most vulnerable babies have the best possible outcomes."


Monday, May 24, 2010

Dealing with Offensive Commentary During Your Pregnancy

When you're pregnant, you are often barraged with comments from people who mean well, but just go over the line and cross your personal boundaries. In fact, you may have even made these comments to a pregnant woman yourself before. Questions such as:

  • How much weight have you gained?
  • Can I touch your stomach?
  • Want to hear my horror story of labor?

There is a book called, "Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat?" by Claire Mysko and Magali Amadei. Mysko is a body-image expert, and Amadei is a mom and former model who went public with her struggle with bulimia. Their book presents the essentials to loving your body before and after baby, covering such topics as body image during pregnancy, baby-bump expectations, sex after the baby, etc. Included is a chapter that discusses setting appropriate boundaries with others when you are pregnant. Here is a summary of the steps they suggested.

There are five key steps to setting boundaries:

  1. Decide early on which kinds of boundary-probing questions you're comfortable with, and which you aren't.

    Are you comfortable talking about breastfeeding techniques with your hairstylist, or is that a topic best left to family members and close friends? You just never know what kind of advice or information you might receive from a complete stranger, so be ready with a "boundary-safe" concrete answer to questions you feel are intrusive. If something feels over the line, say, "I appreciate your concern, but I am not comfortable discussing that topic except with my close friends and family members."

  2. Make weight and body-size conversations off-limits.

    No one really appreciates weight gain-related questions, pregnant or not. But for some reason, people feel this need to know your numbers when you're pregnant. Is it for comparison purposes? Does it help them feel better about themselves?

    Whatever the reason, hearing comments that you are waddling like an oversized penguin or that you resemble a beached whale never adds to anyone's self-esteem. These comments, unfortunately, are often the ones we hear from those we are closest to. And they hurt.

    Stand your ground and tell your family and friends that you would appreciate it if no one would comment on your weight gain or body size during your pregnancy.

  3. Set up a support team to help you stick to your healthy boundaries.

    This is a time when you need to speak up for yourself! You may know in your mind what feels safe in regards to your boundaries and what doesn't, but unless you verbalize these boundaries to your support team, they won't be able to stand up for you if you should find yourself speechless one day against an attacking comment.

    Select the people you trust, and ask them for their support if you get caught up in a bind when a stranger is asking you questions you'd rather not answer. Ask your friends, "If you find me in an awkward position with someone commenting on my body size, can you run interference for me and redirect the conversation?" As long as friends and family members are aware of your needs, they should be quick to help you when you need assistance protecting your boundary.

  4. Pick your battles.

    Well, there's one thing we know in life: We can't control each situation or each person we come into contact with. Sometimes, you may have to let unwanted advice just pass right through you -- especially if it's from someone you have a relationship with. If your outspoken grandma has been telling you how to dress and cut your hair since you were in your teens, she's probably going to have a lot of advice when you get pregnant.

    Grandma probably isn't going to change. So in this case, avoiding a confrontation is probably the best solution. If you find yourself having to spend the whole weekend with Grandma, ask your sister or other relative to distract her, and then blow off your steam with someone who does support your boundaries.

  5. Practice your boundary-setting message.

    As mentioned in the first point, have set answers to give to probing questioners. This will help protect you against unwanted advice or comments. The trick here is to verbally practice, practice and practice your "comebacks," so that when you're least expecting a boundary attack, you'll be ready to speak your mind quickly and assertively.

    It's not your obligation to answer anyone's questions that you feel are intrusive to your boundaries. We've come to believe that we have to answer these questions because most people do. But you can respectfully decline to answer. Voicing your boundary is not being rude -- it is your right to privacy and feeling good about yourself.


Monica Bellucci Welcomes Second Daughter: Leonie

Matrix star Monica Bellucci and her husband Vincent Cassel have welcomed a daughter, Leonie, Monica Bellucci Fan reports. Baby Leonie was born in Rome, Italy on Thursday night (May 20th) via natural childbirth.

The 45-year-old actress said baby Leonie is doing well. "She has arrived, pretty and brunette!"

The happy couple are also parents to 5 1/2-year-old daughter Deva.

Congratulations to the Bellucci-Cassel family!